Debbie Urbanski

This was to be the celebration of a lifetime. That’s what we were told anyway. Even the hynies had come out to watch. They huddled on the corner in their ugly robes, hoods up, though they weren’t supposed to gather like that. But everybody that night was acting large hearted. No one said, hynie you get back to work, or hynie you go and pick up that cup in the gutter. When one of them looked right at me, as if he knew me, instead of spitting at him, I moved on, as if I hadn’t bothered to notice.

The night was almost pretty: sparklers, glow lights, torches, the fireflies—everything lit up so we could pretend it wasn’t dark out. People around us were mouthing the new songs and Alex sung with them, his voice steady and melodic, and he made me sing too. We passed by the park benches and the dark river. Looking back now, I have no idea whether the river curved left or right, or if there were people on the benches. I should have paid more attention. Instead, I remember a woman who unbuttoned her blouse, and the man who touched her neck, and another man who touched the necks and backs of whoever passed him. Were the windows of the church broken yet? Were any of the flowers we saw white? I remember everyone’s naked arms raising up, then lowering. And me, singing when the others sang, off with my overcoat, off with my glove, the song rough and frantic.

“We’ll sleep in the same bed tonight,” Alex whispered. “I won’t touch a hair of you. We’ll lie there, like how you want it, okay?” This was to be my reward for keeping up appearances. Along with everyone else, I sang I need no overcoat, I’m burning with love. My voice grew larger. I pretended to look forward to the rooms. “I can’t wait,” I told Alex, who stared back at me with surprise. I rubbed my hands across someone’s bare back. Do you see how I was trying to be like the others? Small firecrackers sputtered off the concrete, then exploded with a weak burst of sparks that fell back on us as ashes. A woman took off her shirt and tried to catch the ashes on her tongue as if they were snowflakes.

Ahead of us, we could see the curve of the flower rooms’ roof, rising above the block apartments. The sterile glare of television crews lit up the sky there, the stations broadcasting on location, live, for the next few hours. A historic night. A night no one present can ever forget. That’s what the reporters blathered into their microphones: the doors of the flower rooms now always open, a free for all, forever. It was why I agreed to go tonight: not because Alex had begged, but because I always wanted to be part of something large, like history. [i]

People have asked me, “When did you know?” They figure there was a particular moment, when the sky darkened, or all the pines in front of me fell down, and I realized that I was different. But it’s not like that. It’s more a series of moments, like picking up the broken pieces of something, and you don’t know what it is that you’ve broken, so you never bother to put the pieces together until it’s towards the end, until it’s obvious to a lot of people, including yourself.

My official conclusion read “with great regret, we have confirmed that Pearl had an irreparable first time.” It’s the easiest explanation. It doesn’t put the blame solely on anyone. It makes me unfixable. This conclusion also makes a footnote of an unstable hynie who whispered into my young ears “unbearable fables,” but I’ll tell that part of the story later. To keep things simple at first, I’ll begin the year I turned 18, though it’s not the whole story.

We shared the same birthday, April 30, the whole group of us. This made the paperwork easier. So on the first of May, one of the hynies accompanied us to the flower rooms. She stood outside, in the building’s shadow, and tried to smile as we filed past her. “Good luck,” she told each of us while we all ignored her, because she was what she was and therefore had no idea what we were about to do.

In the reception area, where I sat on a pretty chair and chewed the sweet mints, of course my palms were sweaty. Everyone’s hands were sweaty, though all of us had practiced, and had taken at least five tours, where we were shown the jasmine lotion, the lubricants, the warm towels they left out on racks for you. But it was a good nervousness at first. Despite what had happened up until now, I thought maybe I could enjoy myself.

When we were children first learning about the flower rooms, a woman with a beautiful voice came to visit our classroom. She smiled at us, like she was proud of us, then she made us close our eyes and told us, in her beautiful voice, to imagine a flower, like a mum, for instance. Before the revolution, sex used to be like two mums on top of a dried-up hill. The two flowers had to spend all their time trying to survive. They worried about the rain. They worried about the sun—a boring existence, especially in a drought, so the flowers generally withered then died. Now, imagine a field of flowers, where all the flowers brush against each other beneath a gentle drizzle. That’s what the flower rooms will feel like, she said. Like you’re a flower, surrounded by many flowers. Like a hundred petals against your skin.

In the flower room I was assigned to, there weren’t any flowers, but there was a man with a plain face. He had tugged the sheet over the mattress. He wasn’t wearing any clothes. Every part of his body looked so much larger than me.

I waited for him to tell me his name. But before he could, music began pouring out of the speakers, these rich deep cello sounds which were our cue. On the mattress, I closed my eyes. I thought of a million flowers crowded into the smallest garden. I thought of cactuses in the years they didn’t bloom. It didn’t matter what I thought. As the man began banging himself, repeatedly, against the very center of me, the flowers of my mind went away as did the cactuses. Pleasure was somewhere else, it was far off and unreachable for me, put on a high shelf. It was in also his eyes. I tried to go there but I couldn’t go. “Why are you crying?” he asked. I reached and I reached but I couldn’t.

Looking back, perhaps I should have raised my hand when the receptionist, afterwards, inquired does anyone here need an intervention. But no one raised their hand. Instead, a classmate, Laura, loudly explained how, when her partner put his hand on her thigh, this sound came out of her. She didn’t have to fake it. It was this beautiful low sound, she said. And even Mitchell, who I’ll tell you about later, looked flushed. I rubbed my hands roughly against my cheeks. Was I the only one who hadn’t made a sound.

Near the exit stood an old woman with an enormous mum pinned to her suit. She wanted to touch each one of us as we filed out the door. I recognized her from the dark oil painting behind the reception desk. “Isn’t this better, dear?” she told me, her hand on my arm. The flower pinned to her lapel wasn’t even real, it was made out of silk.

Of course I returned. We had to. By the twentieth, or maybe it was the thirtieth time, I don’t remember the number, but I do remember clutching the back of another man, my palms covered in his sweat. He kept repeating the same word, okay, again and again. You weren’t supposed to pretend to be elsewhere, but I closed my eyes and pretended to be elsewhere, back in my childhood, near the pond, or the overlook where you could look down into the valley, but yet not see the valley, you only saw the tops of the thick trees. “Open your eyes,” the man said, then he made me open my eyes.

I know the men complained about me. I was what the revolution had promised to get rid of—those women who couldn’t enjoy themselves. The prudes.

Part of me didn’t care.

Part of me felt ruined.

Part of me wanted to be asked an open-ended question, so I could tell this story:

When we were children, our teacher led us on a walk to see the ocean. The sky opened up as we neared the edge of the bluff. I heard the waves before spotting the water, still miles away from us.

The other children oohed at how the ocean sparkled. They couldn’t take their eyes off it, like all that water made some precious jewel that was of use to them. But the ocean, to me, kept repeating itself. As we stretched out on the bluff, to prepare for a pleasure exercise, I looked down instead into the borderlands, where most of the hynies lived.

“What are you staring at?” our teacher asked me. “Why would you look at those trees? Look out there. The ocean, the ocean. This is a guessing game. What do you think is on the other side?”

She was right: what was I doing, gazing into the valley, where people said the hynies lived in the shadows in their own filth. But there was something about the forest I saw—what would it be like, to live in the shade? In the dark? Every tree I saw shook in the wind.

“What do you see on the other side?” the teacher called out, moving away from me toward the next student.

We learned our first pleasure exercise at five years old. In the first position, you maintain eye contact while pressing your body against your partner’s body: stomach to stomach, legs to legs, hip to hip. It’s simple, but it took practice for anyone to be comfortable, standing so close to another student like that. Once we got used to it, certain children wanted to practice that exercise all the time, though they didn’t have to. On the way to visit the grandmother, I would pass them, in the morning, or at dusk, or in the bright afternoon sun, out on the hill, pressed to each other.

By the time were turned fifteen, we had been taught the 23 pleasure exercises. As far as I know, Mitchell was the only other student who hated practicing as much as I did. It wouldn’t have been obvious to everyone, but I noticed how his skin paled, how his yes’s were dragged out of him, and once, he threw up, as I had, in the bushes. After that, the hynies moved him into a practice group of boys, but he was back with us after a month. At night, in the bunk beds, while the girls giggled about their sex dreams like we were supposed to, I pretended I was asleep, because I didn’t dream like that. It made me feel better, when I pulled the sheets up over my face, to imagine Mitchell in the same situation, hiding under his sheets, as the other boys laughed about their wet dreams.

This is why I edged my way towards Mitchell each day before class, making sure he could see me. When I imagined us as partners, I imagined we wouldn’t do the exercises, we would run into the forest instead, when everyone was looking the other way. We would walk under the trees, holding hands or probably not. I imagined us laughing about the exercises rather than feeling bad about them. He would point out how stupid the others looked, wrapped around each other like pretzel twists, moaning like the mating pigeons. If I looked up, I would see the soft undersides of the leaves.

Only at class, Mitchell pretended not to see me. He turned whatever direction I wasn’t to find a partner. One day though, all the other girls were picked, so our teacher told him to practice with me.

Class was held now on the bluff, so we could see the ocean off in the distance, breathing in like the ocean, breathing out like the ocean. The other students had assumed the sixth position, a relatively easy one: the boy on the ground, his legs straight out in front of him, and the girl on his lap, her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms around his neck. The girl was then to squirm in a circular motion.

Mitchell and I didn’t touch each other. We stood at the edge of the bluff and looked down into the borderlands. I tried to count the different shades of green in the trees. At least fourteen. I whispered to Mitchell that our eyes can’t see all the different greens. I asked him, in a whisper, if he ever thought about entering the woods. “What are you talking about,” he said quietly. Though I think he knew. I didn’t need to reach out my arm to feel him next to me. I felt him next to me. I whispered if he went into the woods first, I would follow him. “Get away from me,” he said. I think he was scared. And I think he lacked any hope.

Several years later, I dreamed I was a child again. I imagined myself at the pond that was at the bottom of the hill where the children practiced on their own. I dreamed my classmates pointed to the water, to whatever was underneath the water that we couldn’t see. I was the only one who dove in and, my dream, I settled to the bottom, where I opened my eyes and saw the swirling and stirred up mud, and the light that came down on me from far above.

The first time Alex saw the photograph, he classified it as old pornography. It’s a photo of a man and a woman standing side by side several inches apart. Their heads are in the picture. They aren’t touching. Alex acted surprised that a hynie would have given me such a thing, but that’s the way it happened.

This hynie’s name was the grandmother and I met her when I was very young. She would hold me for the entire afternoon though she wasn’t supposed to do that, she had other little children to care for too. I should have called her teacher or hynie but she said no, to call her the grandmother. Eventually she should have told me to go away but she let my visits continue. I can remember her with two babies on her lap, the babies suckling at her fingers like she were a piece of candy.

During the visits she told me stories. When the other children my age were out in the courtyard doing one of their frantic dances, the grandmother would lead me to a row of quiet windows that overlooked the woods. Some of the stories she told me came from picture books of the love-sick myths. But often, when we were alone, with the windows shut, the grandmother told me different stories. They weren’t really proper in that there were no beginnings or endings and not much happened in them. She used to have a partner, who was a man, his name was Michael. They traveled to a pond with a bag of stale bread crumbs, and they sprinkled the crumbs on the grass for the geese to gobble up (this was story #1). She danced with this man, the same man, all night, kicking off her shoes, her right hand on his shoulder, her left hand in his hand (story #2). There were other stories, of her and Michael sitting on the couch together, a blanket over their legs (story #9). Or her in the driver’s seat of a car, and Michael in the passenger’s seat, driving for a hundred miles down a straight road, then turning around, and driving back again (story #12).

She told me all the stories she said she knew, and after, she presented me with the photograph, wrapped in tissue and set in a wooden box. I didn’t know what to make of it at first. I knew the grandmother was probably the woman in the dress, and the man in the suit was most likely her partner. But that didn’t explain their positioning, how their bodies were almost touching but yet they weren’t. Why would you take a picture if two people are only standing there? Why include their faces? Had they touched before the picture was taken, and now were moving apart? Or had they not touched and were moving towards each other? I needed to know what happened after the photograph, but the grandmother was no help. “Look at the picture, it’s all there,” she said. Did he throw her onto the ground? Did she rip off his shirt? Did she turn to the east? Did he turn to face the west?

In return, I gave the grandmother the only photograph I owned, given to me as a souvenir at the end of a group tour. I wasn’t in the picture. The heads of the man and the woman were cropped off. They weren’t wearing any clothing. The grandmother put my photo face-down on the windowsill.

She said, petting my hair, “Do you think we’d be happy, you and me, on a little island?”

One day, I confided to the grandmother that I disliked the pleasure exercises. I said, “I don’t want anyone to touch me.” The next time we met, the grandmother didn’t tell me a story, but a story happened to us. It was time for an initiation, I don’t remember which one. But instead of bringing me to the pond, the grandmother put a rain coat on me, slung a bag over her shoulder, and walked out the door with me. People saw us go. It wasn’t a secret. No one stopped us, not for a little while.

We walked further into the woods than I had ever gone. The trees blocked out most of the rain. The grandmother held my hand. I pretended Mitchell was there too holding my other hand. We listened to the strange birds. The leaves dropped at our feet.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“How many times have you been on a boat?” she said. “How many times have you put your foot into the ocean? How many times have you caught a fish on a hook?” Her questions sounded like a game she was playing by herself. She began to whistle, but her song sounded nothing like what the birds were singing.

At a bloated creek crossing, a group of women appeared. They pointed their weapons at us. The grandmother let go of my hand and left me as she tried to scramble away up the creek. I stood there and watched her slip on the rocks.

No one assigned any blame, or called what happened a tragedy, because the loss of a hynie is not called a tragedy, and the grandmother had been growing older, besides.

The stories the other hynies told were different from the grandmother’s stories. Here is an example, the lovesick story #2:

Once there was a man named X and a woman named Y. They met as children and never saw anyone else but each other, even when the room was filled with people in shimmering dresses and shimmering suits. They danced only with each other, selfishly, their hands tangled in each other’s hair. If, at a dancing ball, a gentleman with perfectly clean gloves asked to dance with the woman Y, X would punch the man in the face. Soon no one asked to dance with Y, and X was happy, while Y was a little lonely, though she barely realized it.

X and Y lived in a room together and shared the same bed. They had the same name. Their shared sheets were not very clean. Does this sound like happiness? When Y birthed a child, they didn’t give the child to the hynies to take care of, because there weren’t any hynies. They cared for the child themselves. Well, mainly Y rocked the child to sleep and fed the child from her breast, while X banged the pots in the kitchen, or wore a dark business suit.

All over their room they pasted pictures of themselves, dancing and smiling, but eventually those pictures looked nothing like them.

When the founders came knocking at the door, Y invited them in. She made them tea while balancing the baby on her hip. The founders shook their heads, said “tsk,” asked when was the last time Y had felt pleasure. When Y began to cry, they founders said here, let us unknot your apron.

When X came home, nothing was left in the room except the pictures, which Y didn’t bother to take.

Certainly, X was sad for a while. But when the flower rooms were built, there were more dances to attend, where everyone danced with everyone else, all at once. Soon, X joined in. He began laughing every minute of the day. His laughter sounded like a bird song. It was that pretty.

When X and Y were much older, they accidentally met in the flower room’s reception area. They didn’t want to be assigned to each other. There was this sense of revulsion, Y knew X’s skin so well. She knew that he had a mole on his left shoulder blade, and so on.

“What happened to our baby?” X asked.

Y said she didn’t know.

Certain people have said to me, tell us the earliest moment that you knew. They wondered if my whole life has been colored by this, if it’s like being born without legs. Have you ever enjoyed anything?

Your first pleasure exercise, for instance. What did it feel like, certain people have asked me.

I told them my first lesson occurred near the pond, which stank that time of year, as if the water had rotted. The boy looked at my face. I stared at the pond scum behind him. You never saw anything alive in that pond, not a ripple. The sky was perfectly clear. There weren’t birds in it. There wasn’t a breeze. The girl beside me had her eyes closed, though that hadn’t been in the instructions. So I tried closing my eyes. I thought of the woods and everything you couldn’t see because of the dark. I opened my eyes. The boy was still there, pressed against me. Another girl had cocked her hip to the side. I studied every one of the girls. One girl had hiked her skirt up above her knees. She was smiling. I would have tried anything. The boy’s hands on the back of my neck would not move. He began to sweat. “Let’s stand here forever,” he said. He said, “Why won’t you look at me?”

No, even before the pleasure exercises, certain people have said to me. What’s your earliest memory?

I tell them I remember coming across a nest of birds in the grass.

They keep asking me more specific questions. How long was the grass? What did you do with the songbirds? If you touched them, how did they feel? Were you able to save them? Did they make a noise? How was the weather? What color were the birds?

And what they’re really asking me: is your first memory different from my own? Tell me, they are asking, under their breaths, tell me a story that shows how you and I are different.

“If a person can not enjoy themselves in bed,” the founders wrote in the red manual, “they can not enjoy themselves, and we are all better off without them.” That’s why we were to say good riddance when someone’s arms were pinned down and the brown robe forced onto them, or when the somber celibates were dragged off to the outskirts to be buried. And that’s why no one rushed into the water to save the suicides who marched determinedly towards the middle of the river.

That summer I spent with Alex, every other day some bloated body would be dragged back onto the river bank. At first, the bodies tended to belong to the hermits who had holed up in their closets. They were strangers to me. Then I saw my neighbor, drowned, dripping on the grass, a woman whose laughter I used to hear through the walls. I had pulled her skirt down over her thighs because no one else would.

At the end of July, I recognized someone else, a man the divers had dredged up.

The trees had been cut down in the river park where Alex and I were lounging that day. The only shade was cast by the garbage bins. I noticed the sunburn spreading on Alex’s chest. Also, there were no boats that day, no seagulls, nothing to look at but the water. So of course we noticed the man, standing at the edge of the river, untying his shoes, folding his socks. I knew what he would do before he put one foot into the water. I tried not to watch as his shoulders, then his head, disappeared under the water.

Twenty minutes later, the divers arrived in their white van and moved slowly toward the river. They emerged with the drowned man in their arms. They threw the body onto the grass. Some of the crowd laughed, like we were supposed to, at the dead man’s dripping pants and the shirt that clung to his nipples.

I recognized him easily. It was Mitchell, who I’ve already told you about. Mitchell had freckles all over his face and his neck, as did the dead man. Their hair was both tinged red. I knew him as a child, and there he was, older of course, and his pockets now bulging with rocks. So I didn’t kick my heels up like the others. Alex called me a sourpuss, but it seemed in poor taste, to dance around the body of a man you once thought to run away with.

On a particular day, if you asked, I might say I still had hope of another existence. That was the difference between Mitchell and me. But where is the proof, you might ask. And I would show you the photograph the grandmother gave me, pointing out the precious inches of distance between their bodies. I would tell you that when the grandmother handed me the picture and said keep this safe for me, I think what she meant was stop making things up. Bring us back to this. Find some other way.

But other days, I would tell you the photograph didn’t feel like enough. How was I supposed to know if the man and the women were moving towards each other, or moving away?

In the beginning, I bet that the point of the photograph lay in that there were two of them, a man and a woman, without a crowd to grope at them. So Alex and I lived in my apartment and pretended no one else lived around us. We sat at the kitchen table and forced ourselves to hold mundane conversations. We ate off the same dinner plate. We held hands. We let go. With his history background, and his knowledge of historic coupling, Alex had many ideas to try. For instance, he washed the dishes, and I watched his hands submerge into the scalding water. Or we tried sex with my legs up near my head, or with Alex’s arms pinned back against the mattress. I kept my mouth open, just in case a pleasure sound came out. The bed in my apartment was much smaller than the beds in the flower rooms though, so one of us was always falling off of its edge.

After months of such experimentation, I wondered if I misread the photograph.

What if the point wasn’t that there were two of them, a man and a woman? What if the point of the picture was that space between them? What if the man and woman stood perfectly still like that, not touching, for the rest of their lives?

The night I figured this out, Alex placed his hand around my breast and tugged, as if he could pluck my breast off. I should have recognized the bored expression on his face. Instead, I said, “What if we lay here for a while without touching.” But Alex didn’t take his hand away. I rolled onto my side away from him. Neither of us could sleep. I kept my eyes open in the dark. The transport trucks rumbled down the hill outside. My furniture in the room looked unfamiliar and faint. An hour later, Alex got up, slipped on his clothes, crept out the door. I went to the window to watch him hurry across the street, toward the flower room’s blinking red neon a few blocks north.

Eventually, he came back, smelling of jasmine. And the next morning, he explained to me wasn’t this more authentic? It’s how things were always done, throughout history, he assured me: two people certainly standing together, yes, but look at the photo more closely. You can see the man looking slightly off to the right, toward someone else. There were never only two of them.

Alex[ii] must have alerted them, told them how I would arrive a little after dinner that evening to the flower rooms. They would have paid him, or rewarded him, or given him a better apartment. What a deal I was. What a treasure.

There was a wait, of course. That was to be expected. But when I handed over my ID, the receptionist explained I was due for a pleasure test. I couldn’t hear her at first amid all the shouting and the songs. She had to repeat herself twice. “Tonight?” I asked. She smiled without showing her teeth.

The stakes were high: pleasure or exile. I didn’t hate the world I knew so much that I would let it go easily, without an effort. The world had daffodils, after all. It had a river. It was what I knew. So let it be known that I tried. The man in my room was anonymous enough. He could have been anyone, cropped brown hair, a neck, two arms, a back. I used my nails and dug into his shoulders, and tried to make it seem like I did this out of passion. But it wasn’t passion, when I lowered my head and used my teeth on his chest.

He climaxed in gasps. I let him go. The bell rang, then shut itself off. My heart barely beating. My dull bored heart. The moths banged against the lamp shade.

Back in the reception room, the guards leaned on their rifles. I was given the form letter of exile. The brown robe they pulled on me, the crowd pulling away, the woman standing on the couch with a look of disgust, the woman who spit on me. Outside, I could see the lights strung up around the doorways and lampposts, as if it were a holiday still, all merriment and song, which I suppose it was for some people.

When the guards escorted me out to the brown bus, they made sure they didn’t touch my arms.

It was quieter on the bus, the air stale. The woman in the front seat appeared to have been riding for days, all the trash and wrappers scattered at her feet, and the stink of her. The man behind her never looked up. Other passengers tried to smile. I ignored them and leaned my head against the window, to watch the crowd pound against the bus with their fists. Someone threw a raw egg, then the rinds of a wet fruit. I didn’t see Alex in the crowd. We edged forward. We left all that behind.

The bus passed by the dark windows of my apartment and, later, the rows of houses, roofs collapsed, siding knocked out, where more apartments would soon be built. We passed the gravel mounds at the outskirts of town, ten of them, where they buried the celibates alive. Alex had attended several of the burials. He told me they removed the celibate’s clothes like one of the strip tease exercise: first the socks, then the shirt, button by button, the slow unbuckling of the pants, the easing down of the zipper. Before the burial, they let the crowd touch the celibate anywhere, for hours sometimes.

The bus window wouldn’t lower to let a breeze in.

I remembered Alex asking me what good did I think I was doing. The world wouldn’t change, he told me, not now, not that everyone was happy. I told him certain people weren’t happy. He said well maybe some of us can’t be.

The bus passed by the town border, then passed a hynie picking up trash at the roadside with a sharp stick. He held his hand up, in what I thought was a greeting. But then he pointed behind where he stood, to the acres of dirt, where there was nothing to see but a rock here, a pile there.

Still, I felt a connection, looking at the blank ground where that hynie also stared. Because what if the most loving word that two people say to each other is look? What if the most loving gesture is two people standing side by side, not touching, watching over the same empty space, leaving the space unfilled? Finally, the bus twisted down into the valley, into the woods, the air growing darker, and there were so many birds. It made me wonder if I had ever really listened to the sound of birds before. [iii]


[i] We can place this story in the “Garden Years,” the period of time following the Third Sexual Revolution (3SR) which traditionally historians have viewed as an era of pleasure, in contrast to the hangings/burnings of the 4SR. Yet it’s clear the Garden had its own brutality, despite the founders’ love of the feminine. Our narrator is undoubtedly “Pearl of the Borderlands,” who will go on to organize the 4SR. Though the merits of this revolution have been called into question, there is no doubt this woman, through her self-intimacy laws, will change not only procreation but human interaction itself. These clinical triumphs however are best saved for another story.

[ii] For continuing to frequent the flower rooms after they were outlawed, Alex will be sentenced to death by suffocation during the 4SR. We can assume Pearl was aware of his hanging.

[iii] Though the ending is inconclusive, we would suggest a framework of hope. Remember all that Pearl will go on to build, and the slogan she would later order roped to the bodies of the guilty: “Look: another world is possible.”

urbanski-photoaDebbie Urbanski’s fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The Southern Review, The Sun, Nature: the International Weekly Journal of Science, and the UK science fiction magazines Interzone and Arc (from New Scientist). Currently she is at work on a linked story collection concerning aliens and cults. You can find her at or on twitter @DebbieUrbanski.